Karlee Bispo wrestled with her college decision for months, and it still came down to the final hours.
Bispo, a three-time Modesto Bee girls swimmer of the year and one of the nation's top collegiate prospect, had narrowed her choice to one of three schools: Texas, Cal and USC. And in the final week she dropped USC from the list.
But her final decision wasn't known until Wednesday's ceremony at the Downey High Career Center, when she unzipped her Downey swimming jacket to show a burnt orange Texas shirt underneath. Bispo's going to be a Longhorn.
"I even set my alarm early this morning to think about it a little more," Bispo said. "But once I made my decision, I felt really good."
She was one of at least 12 Stanislaus District athletes who signed or will sign national letters-of-intent this week, committing to the colleges of their choice in return for a partial or full scholarship.
In Bispo's mind, Texas offered the complete package, from academics (she hopes to become a doctor) to athletics to her future teammates. Bispo and Texas signees Kathleen Hersey, Katie Riefenstahl and Leah Gingrich are all considered among the top 10 college recruits in the country.
They were all teammates on the 2005 Junior National Team that competed in Australia, and all are friends.
"Having my friends there was a big plus," Bispo said. "Plus, I wanted to sign today and get it out of the way so I can concentrate on the high school season and the Olympic Trials."
Bispo has qualified for the Trials in four events: The 50, 100 and 200 freestyles as well as the 200-meter individual medley.
Orestimba's Juliana Santos honored her verbal commitment from a year ago by signing with LSU to play softball.
Santos, a shortstop, is one of the area's most dominating hitters. She led the section with 46 RBIs and led the Stanislaus District with a .529 average. She'll join one of her best friends, Beyer graduate Ashley Applegate, in Baton Rouge.
"Ashley tells me she loves it back there," Santos said. "I know when I visited, I just loved the campus. As soon as they offered, I accepted.
"It's been a year since I (verbally agreed). I can't believe it's actually happening."
East Union's Erin Arevalo signed with Georgia to play softball. Arevalo, The Bee's 2007 softball player of the year, had 430 strikeouts in 205 innings for the Section Division IV runner-up Lancers. She's also a powerful hitter.
"I'll get an opportunity to start right away," Arevalo told The Bee in September, when she verbally committed. "Coach (Lu) Harris says if you have a bat, you'll be in the lineup, so I think they'll let me hit."
Pitman's Nathan Gonzalez will sign a letter of intent to play baseball for St. Mary's College of Moraga in a Friday ceremony at the Pitman High library.
Gonzalez, a pitcher, amassed a 9-2 record and 1.39 ERA as the Pride's ace last year.
Tiare Jennings, also from Pitman, will sign with New Mexico State to play softball in the same ceremony as Gonzalez. Jennings is a multi-sport star for the Pride, with softball and basketball her best sports.
The Aggies compete in the Western Athletic Conference.
A third Pitman athlete, Megan Bohlender, will sign to play water polo for San Jose State. The Spartans finished last season ranked No. 6 in the nation. She'll join former Johansen standout Geraldine Hazlett, who will be a senior next year.
Modesto Christian senior Jessica Graham signed with Idaho to play women's basketball.
Graham played her first three years at Ripon, then transferred to MC. She was a first-team all-District player her junior year with the section runner-up Indians.
Manteca's Marissa Navarro is signing with Sacramento State to play softball.
Navarro, named the Valley Oak League's outstanding catcher as a junior, chose the Hornets over her other offer from Cal State Bakersfield because of her major.
"She wants to go into physical therapy," said her father, Corey Navarro. "Sac State has a better program. Plus, they've been recruiting her for some time."
Modesto Christian senior basketball player D.J. Seeley signed with Cal. Seeley transferred to MC in March. He's the third player from MC to commit to Cal this decade, following Richard Midgley and David Paris.
Weston Ranch senior James Nunnally signed to play men's basketball for UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos are members of the Big West Conference, so Nunnally may run into big brother Michael -- a UOP junior -- next year.
Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.